Winning Chicago.

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Team Down. Not Out! Ready to get started in Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon was more memorable than anything we could have dreamed! Our whole team really appreciated all the support, notes, and video cheers along the way. I was touched by how many of our friends and family followed us online during the day.

As I barely rolled into class on time Monday, a colleague who didn’t know our story asked me, “Did you win?” I said, “Hell yeah, we won!” [As I explained, with a little too much emotion, I’m sure he was sorry he asked.] Here are some of our team’s winning metrics:

Friday night, Ann was honored with the Heart of a Champion award from the American Cancer Society. Just wow. Such a surprise, and so well deserved.

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Standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house. Ann was stunned.

Saturday we learned that a few final donations put Down. Not Out! over $15,000 in fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Geri also raised $3500 for the Ronald McDonald House! Go team!

Sunday morning brought perfect weather and excitement to get started. We waited nearly 20 minutes to cross the starting line. 6 hours and 27 minutes later, the five of us crossed the finish line together.

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Yeah!!! Finished!

Maybe most importantly, for others diagnosed with metastatic cancer, Ann showed that you don’t have to put your goals and dreams aside. Finishing the Chicago Marathon promised hope and inspiration to others.

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Heart of a champion. Go BIG or Go HOME! #LikeaBoss

We had an amazing run and walk through the streets of Chicago, told incompletely here with a few stories and photos.

  • The Sears Tower (now renamed, don’t ask me what, something with a W) was always in sight, seemingly always in a different direction.
  • Highlights of a big-city marathon like Chicago included the colorful neighborhoods, funny signs, and wacky people along the course.
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Like Elvis.

  • I found my running shoes after a momentary panic attack where I couldn’t find them, then calmed down and started considering just how bad it was going to be to run 26.2 miles in Doc Martens.
  • Geri discovered the magic of Fritos and candy during long-distance running. She, Rebecca, and I did a lot of silly dancing with the music along the course.
  • Our cheering section was unmatched! We saw Jeff, Grace, Rose, Frank, Marie, Bernadene, Emalee, and Megan all over the course with their awesome signs.
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Rock star support from family!

  • Reading messages of support sent before and throughout the race carried us along.
  • Ann kept pushing forward, doing run/walk intervals for over half the race, and never complaining even as the sun got hot. She looked for and celebrated moments of joy even during a very tough run.
  • We kept a similar pace as a woman whose husband was wearing a loud, watermelon-print shirt. We started calling him Watermelon Guy and he cheered us on too. He was a hoot!
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Watermelon guy kept hopping on his bike and riding ahead to the next cheering stop.

  • At a few points during the race, my emotions got the better of me, and I pulled my hat down and dropped behind to shed a few bittersweet tears.
  • Even when we were mostly walking, Rebecca encouraged us to run short intervals, which kept us on track for an official finish.
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    Too many names, and not even all of them.

    We carried so many family and friends in our hearts for 26.2 miles. ❤There are far too many names on this list! I hope that research done by the American Cancer Society will one day lead to a world without cancer.

I felt really confident about Ann’s pace, and it was probably more nerve-wracking for those tracking us from afar as we slowed during the race and our projected finish time crept closer to the “official” time cut-off, 6.5 hours. For better or worse, I thought we were fine until I looked at my watch and realized that we’d be a lot closer to the cut-off than I’d originally realized. Fortunately, it was close enough to the finish that I knew we’d make it. We crossed the line together with joy and relief.

As I told Andrew afterward, each of us is struck with a few instances of clarity in our lives, times when you know that you are exactly where you need to be, with exactly the right people, for exactly the right reasons. Yet I’d trade our entire memorable weekend in Chicago, gladly and without hesitation, for Ann not to have cancer. Since that isn’t possible, I felt lucky indeed to be in the best place I could be. On October 8th, 2017, I saw Ann win Chicago, achieve her goal, and bring hope to others with her indomitable spirit. I will remember it always!

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Best cheering section ever! They walked miles and miles.

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Down. Not Out!

 

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One week til Chicago.

The miles are in the bank. We are T-9 days away from the Chicago Marathon, and I feel confident that our Down. Not Out! team will cross the finish line together. I’m so proud of Ann, and I’m excited that I will be with her to see this goal through.

I am looking forward to the adventure, and yet, part of me is dreading it.

I am relieved to have my Table Rock 50K behind me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I was nervous about potential injury. Table Rock is a wicked course—one I hadn’t run—and there’s nothing easy about 5700 ft of elevation gain on single-track trails. In fact, it was harder than I expected (but I loved it all).

A couple of weeks ago, friends asked if I was doing extra training in addition to my weekly training with Ann, plus joining her long runs whenever we were both in town. Sometimes Chicago training looked like powerful walk/run intervals; other days we needed to do more walking. Ann persevered. Marathon training with stage 4 cancer is tough. There is no manual or instruction book. She’s writing it.

I sure as hell was not doing extra training. I don’t have time, and I’m not that dedicated. I was undertrained for distance and terrain, but that’s happened before, and it turned out OK. Still, I fumbled over my response. “No, but it’s fine.” Well, of course, duh. “Look,” I said, trying again, “my priorities are clear.”

I knew they were missing the whole truth, but I didn’t try to explain. I was worried that I might burst into tears unexpectedly and make everyone uncomfortable. Still, I squirmed inside about the possible misunderstanding.

My priorities are clear. That is true enough. A mistaken assumption, however, might be that my only priority is to help Ann finish her marathon. I think even Ann worried about it some. However, that isn’t the case at all. First, Ann has had many, many friends support her training. Second, I needed these miles together. For me.

As we neared the longest runs of her training two weeks ago, Ann said one day, with weariness, “I can’t wait for this training to be over. It is really hard on my body.” Her honest words filled me with deep sadness.

We knew that she would need to hang up her running shoes, to protect her long-term health and have energy for other goals. I’ve worried about her training. I know she’s making a good decision, at the right time, and I admire Ann for making the call and doing it on her own terms. Living life large has always been her style.

But there will be weeks and months and years ahead where I would trade anything for that time spent running together. Time that is free of distraction, often in the company of other friends. No agenda, just time spent sharing what’s on our minds, laughing about our kids, making plans, and telling stories.

I will miss it terribly.

So today, we run together. To get Ann to the start—and the finish—of the Chicago marathon, and fulfill a longtime dream of hers. At the same time, I am filling my cup for the road ahead, one without my best friend running by my side.

My priorities are clear. I treasure every single day that we can lace up our running shoes together.

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Crystal Coast Half Marathon, 2011. One of our worst races together (Ann had a fever and my IT band crapped out), but the girls’ weekend with friends more than made up for it.

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Tour de Cure 2015. This was an awesome challenge for us to tackle together, since neither of us is very comfortable on a road bike. One of my favorite pics, taken at the end of the second long, hot day of riding.

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Sunset Beach Half Marathon last spring with the Peeps. It takes a flock!

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Chicago Marathon training in July with some Peep support.

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Many adventures are still ahead. We don’t just run. We also camp, eat Krispy Kremes, and listen to bluegrass. Plus a whole lot of other stuff.

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Our husbands (and kids) never question our crazy adventures and are our rocks of support. We’re looking forward to celebrating 20 years of friendship in 2018.

Table Rock 50K Race Report

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Who wouldn’t want this spectacular view halfway through a 50K trail race?!

I signed up for Tanawha Adventure‘s Table Rock 50K last spring, but the race has been on my radar ever since the course was changed. The old 50K course was nearly all gravel Forest Service roads, and only the 50 miler went up to the summit of Table Rock. When I saw the new course video, I was all in. Plus, I love their mantra: Run. Inspire. Conserve.

It took me a couple of years to free up my calendar. Epic adventures are better shared, so I was happy that Dave Woodard was also signed up, and with minimal arm-twisting, my friend Jon Armstrong signed up too. Woo hooo!

My training was not ideal for a 50K trail race in the mountains. Two weeks of teaching in early August left me scrambling to increase my long run mileage, by doing Saturday/Sunday back-to-backs, some long Chicago training runs with Ann that were run/walk intervals on flat terrain, and a few long Peep runs at Umstead. There was no speed work or hill training, and I barely scraped 100 running miles in August. The Blue Ridge Relay added some extra training with a lot of steep downhill on dirt roads.

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Yikes!

For the most part, I don’t stress about training. My strengths are not glamorous, but they work for me: I am durable and consistent. Also, I can usually pull out my best on race day. Despite that, I worried about a 50K with 5700 feet of climbing. I was also stressing about having an accident or spraining an ankle two weeks before the Chicago Marathon. My work has been crazy lately, as well, so I’ve had a deficit of sleep and extra stress. It is what it is, and real life is never ideal.

Thursday night came and after celebrating my friend AnaRita, I threw my gear together. Fortunately, Andrew generously packed all our camping gear and supplies. Here is a Jeffries Truth: Andrew thinks to pack anything you could possibly want, whereas I am certain to forget many things—I try to focus on the essentials and figure I can live without the rest. We make a good team!

The first thing I forgot was eggs boiling on the stove on Thursday night. I turned the pot on, forgot about them, and went to bed. Mercifully the house didn’t burn down—no smoke alarms went off. Early the next morning Andrew and Simon cleaned up the burnt exploded mess while I scrambled to get to work. You don’t even want to imagine the smell.

We skedaddled out of work and hit the road at rush hour, barely screeching into packet pickup at 7:40, starving. RD Brandon recommended Moondance Pizza—Jon and Carolyn came up just as we figured out where it was, and we had a little adventure getting there (it is not walking distance, fyi). We arrived late at a tiny house that was packed. The host told us it would be a 25-30 minute wait and my heart sank. I spied a couple sitting at a larger table with 6 empty seats and asked if we could sit with them. That’s how we met Evan and Jackie, who were volunteering at the Table Rock summit the next day! Volunteers are awesome people, so of course they said yes. Andrew and I split a giant pizza with pesto, spinach, portobellos, ricotta, mozzarella, and chicken. It. Was. Insane.

We said goodbye to our friends and arrived at Steele Creek Family Campground after dark, found the area for runners, and hastily set up camp. I suddenly realized that Stephen had my Thermarest and pulled out the Mom-has-a-50K-tomorrow card to demand a trade. I set my alarm and fell asleep listening to barred and screech owls.

I woke up feeling lazy. Then, I realized I better get moving if I was going to fix coffee and get ready. I set up the stove to boil water and filled the French press, then went to fill my water pack and brush my teeth. I came out of the bath house realizing I had 20 minutes until the start. Suddenly everything was a rush, but fortunately Andrew was up and helped me in the mad scramble. I was shoving food in my face, slurping too-hot black coffee, and trying to remember all my race stuff and what I wanted in my drop bag.

Ten minutes before the start and I still hadn’t checked in. I Vaselined my feet and shoved them into my Salomon Speed Cross shoes. I picked them over the Brooks Calderas because they are a closer fitting shoe and the laces stay put. They also have a slightly more aggressive, sticky tread. The Calderas have flat laces that always loosen up as I run, and are overall roomier—which might be good for all the downhill at the end, but I was thinking about the many stream crossings. I laced up and hooked on my lucky scissors gaiters to keep out debris.

As I walked across the field to check in and find my friends, something wasn’t right. I had not had much coffee and couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, but Something. Was. Definitely. Not. Right. I checked in, but barely greeted Carolyn, Jon, and Dave because I was distracted. The shoes. Something is wrong with the shoes. I hadn’t worn the Salomons in a few months, so maybe they just felt smaller and less cushy compared to the newer Brooks. But that wasn’t it. They didn’t FIT right. They felt like I’d never worn them before. They felt flat and hard, but they weren’t old enough to lose so much cush—. Oh. Oh no. The cushion is exactly what’s wrong. It’s wrong because there are no insoles in these shoes.

Yes, I’d removed the insoles some weeks ago to dry out after a wet run. Who knows where they were now, but they were definitely not here. We had about 6 minutes. I asked Andrew to grab my other shoes. Then I panicked and ran to the car, but he wasn’t there and the shoes were gone. Then I saw him—he’d put them in my drop bag. Three minutes to start—I handed everything to Andrew and Carolyn, took my shoes off, and jumped around putting on the new shoes, trying not to hyperventilate. Gaiters hooked, Andrew snapped a quick photo, and we are off to the starting sound of banjo! It was perhaps my worst start ever. I wanted to shoot myself with a tranquilizer gun, seriously, so I can’t even imagine how everyone else felt.

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You can’t quite see how frazzled I felt in this photo, which Andrew took 30 seconds before the start. Notice crumpled race number and leaking water pack.

I’m hardly ever nervous before races, because you know, I do this for fun, I’m not planning to win, and so what, but I was really unnerved. I kept going on about what would I have done if I hadn’t had spare shoes, because no way could I have run in shoes without insoles. I could hear myself obsessing but couldn’t stop. Jon was too nice to smack me upside the head, which might have helped calm the pointless drama. Fortunately, we ran into some other runners I’d met at earlier races this year, so the conversation finally shifted and as we headed across a beautiful meadow, I settled down and looked forward to the day unfolding. Woo hoo, it’s time to run!

Temperatures were cool but projected to climb into the high 80s. The slow train start of a trail race is never my favorite, finding it hard to get my rhythm with constant bottlenecks. Still, I enjoyed catching up with folks I recognized and chatting with others as we started the long climb toward Linville Gorge, which started soon after we entered the woods.

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Steele’s Creek, second crossing. This was more precarious than it looked, and even more so when it was at mile 28ish on the way back. Jump!

Our first creek crossing came quickly, and there were several. Unlike other trail races, Steele Creek was wide and deep, without rock-hopping options. One was near a beautiful waterfall, and you could stay dry if you were willing to jump over the gaps. The group I was with took their time and I snapped a few photos as we spotted each other.

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Jon and I look like two kids in a candy store. Or maybe two under-trained runners near the start of a wicked trail race.

Jon was leading a small group of us when we heard shouting up ahead. We speculated that someone had fallen into Steele Creek, until we reached the spot. Yellow jackets! Jon ran through and I brushed one off my hand while trying to pass through. The three runners behind us each sustained 3-5 stings. Fortunately, none of them were allergic. I did have a funny visual about this nest of bees getting more and more angry as scores of runners continued to come by. RD Brandon told us on Monday that he saw that a bear had dug up several nests along the trail, so the last laugh was on them.

The trail was climbing, then we came out on dirt road. A few runners came flying past and it finally dawned on me that they were the 30K racers. I was wondering what was in their Wheaties and why I didn’t get any. The 30K runners turned around at the second aid station, near the top of the dirt road to head back to the start. We turned around there too, but descended past the trail junction and onward.

My lack of run training meant that I couldn’t run many of the steep uphills, even on the road. However, my Ann Camden Interval Plan had me hiking like a boss. People would pass me on the downhills and I’d march past them on the next steep hill. Along the way I’d yell “rock and roll!” at people, as I usually do. [doesn’t everyone get tired of “good job”?]

I ran with several first-time ultra-marathoners, who were doing a great job of moderating their pace even when the road was easy. All the ones I talked to were successful finishing! For a brief moment, the road opened up and a jagged peak came into view. You had to tilt your head to see it. “What mountain is that?” I laughed. “That’s Table Rock. We’ll be on that summit less than five miles from here. Why are we still going down?!”

I had studied the maps, but was still puzzled about how we’d only pass the Table Rock parking area once. Suddenly, our route took an abrupt left onto single-track, and I saw the signature round white blazes of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Oh boy. I knew the way now, and it was a doozy.

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You can see the blaze that proves that yes, this is the MST.

Ken, Joanna and I had hiked that section during an adventure a few years ago, when we needed to get back to Table Rock from the Spence Ridge Trail. Before hitting the summit trail, it passes an old logging deck—the same logging deck, I’m sure, where I’d camped with the Mountaineering and Whitewater Club in college. Around midnight we’d round everyone up and hike to the summit to sober up, WITHOUT LIGHTS. I can’t believe we survived our own foolishness.

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Soapwort Gentian

The race leaders were also flying back toward us on the steep downhill. Here the forest was lush, at least, and I enjoyed the early fall wildflower show as I moved slowly forward.

The MST intersected the Table Rock summit trail and I turned left to hoof it to the top. I was starting to see runners with serious cramping. I’ve never had bad cramping, but it occurred to me that this terrain and heat made for ideal conditions. I had forgotten my small bottle that fits in my pack that I use to mix Nuun, so I was trying to drink Gatorade at every aid station. I noticed that my hands were swelling and my face was salt-crusted, which was not a great sign. I’ll add salt tabs to my pack next time.

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Table Rock summit!

Views opened up along the trail as it became higher, rockier, and steeper. Finally, I emerged at the summit and was greeted by my pizza friends Jackie, who marked my bib, and Evan, who graciously snapped my picture! It was a clear day with gorgeous views. I chatted with them for a minute, took some photos, and decided it was time to head down to the mile 19.4 aid station in the parking lot.

During the trip down I decided I was going to re-lube my feet and change socks. The first part of the descent would be dry, and my feet were feeling hot, damp, and gritty despite my scissors gaiters. I grabbed my drop bag, plopped in a chair, and took my wet shoes off. More Vaseline and dry socks felt awesome. I grabbed some food and Gatorade, thanked the volunteers and headed back.

We headed back up the summit trail a little ways before turning left to run back on the MST. Now I was running steep downhill and passing folks still heading up. My legs felt good, but I was well aware that I still had 10 miles to go. We made it back out to the road and the aid station (thank you, Aline!) before turning right on the road for a short-cut.

Someone was pacing close behind me, and I invited them to pass. Turns out Lexi and I had run together a bit earlier, but this time we stayed together and I was happy for the conversation. We crossed the big boulder waterfall at Steele Creek with another woman and I really paused this time, contemplating jumping the gap onto slippery rocks with tired and wobbly legs. I paused, took a deep breath and jumped. We all made it. Then we celebrated because we realized we were below the bee’s nest!

I really appreciated Lexi’s company, which made the miles go by. We talked about her big plans for Chattanooga 100 and I told her about Chicago. We pulled into the last aid station and I grabbed another handful of salty potato chips. They were out of cups, so I fished a clean-looking one out of the trash. It was HOT and I had a side stitch, and my eyes were gooping up, making my vision cloudy. We left the last aid station, running downhill as well as some flat sections. I had forgotten where the aid stations were, so I didn’t know how far we had to go. Lexi said 4.8 miles. We powered on.

A lot of folks were suffering in the heat of the day. I was ready to be done (specifically, I was glad it wasn’t 50 miles), but I was running just fine. I passed 17 people in the last 10 miles or so to the finish. One guy was lying in the sun in an open field, but assured me he was fine. Others were bent over or walking painfully.

The field that was so beautiful in the early morning light was now a shade-less, hot slog to the finish. I put my head down and cranked it out, determined not to walk. Finally I saw the turn up ahead to run across the bridge. As I did, I heard cheers from fellow runners sitting in the creek, in addition to Andrew, Stephen and Simon! Then I high-fived Carolyn as I made the final run across the finish line.

Whewwwww. I was boiling. Stephen put his hand on my arm and said, “whoa Mom, you are really hot.” Andrew brought me a cold Gatorade and I stuffed ice in my shirt and gratefully sat in a chair to rest in the shade. After a while I ate a few pizza slices while trading stories about the day and the beautiful course. I then grabbed a Black Bear Ale and the boys and I sat in the creek with Dave to cheer in the other runners. The cold creek water felt awesome on my tired legs, and it was fun watching everyone finish.

After a good soak, I headed back to chat with Jon and Carolyn. Jon was his usual positive self, raving about how beautiful and tough the course was, and he took back his earlier threat to delete any email I sent with the subject line, “I have a great idea!” I also heard from local friends that I was 3rd female Masters, and there was an award! I grabbed my hooded finishers t-shirt and a pottery award.

Loved this race, which was challenging, well-organized, and very well-marked. The volunteers were top-notch, as were the race t-shirts, socks, and finisher’s hoodie. My favorite thing might be that they donated proceeds to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, to help steward the trails that we had just spent the day enjoying. Hats off to Tanawha Adventures. I hope to be back!

Stats:
Finish time: 7:03:29, 13:26 min/mi pace
69/245 finishers; 11/58 women; 3rd Masters female

Stuff:
Oiselle Roga shorts
New Balance tank top
Rebound Racer bra
Baleja socks
Dirty Girl gaiters
Brooks Caldera shoes
Nathan pack
Oiselle runner trucker hat

Chicago Marathon-bound—and I need your help!

My best friend Ann helped me start running again, back when we were 20-something neighbors living on the bucolic Trusty Trail (nothing bad can happen on Trusty Trail—maybe we should have stayed). It was a great way to carve out time together. The upcoming Chicago Marathon will be Ann’s fifth marathon, my eighth. Although we ran our first half marathon together (2006?), we have never run a marathon together. Don’t think we haven’t tried!

I told her when she and Nancy ran the ING Marathon in DC in 2008, their first, that I’d never run that far (I’m still eating crow for that line). A year later (haha), I was at the starting line for my first of four Umstead Trail Marathons (I have yet to convince Ann how great this race is). Three weeks prior, she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I bought a pink shirt and ran the race with her on my mind. Even though she was feeling crappy, she came out to Umstead to see me finish. We hugged and vowed we’d run the next one together.

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Blue Ridge Marathon and Half Marathon, 2014.

Ann, Nancy and I threw our names into the hat for the NYC Marathon the following year—it was their second attempt at the lottery, my first. It never once occurred to me that I might get in and they might not. But, that’s what happened! I ran NYC in 2010 and Ann and Nancy finally had the chance to run NYC in 2013. Then I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon in 2014, while Ann—wisely—opted for the half marathon option after all the training she did for NYC the previous fall (we did, at least, run the first part of the race together).

Last year, only a few weeks before she was re-diagnosed, this time with metastatic breast cancer, Ann ran the Asheville Marathon—but it was only 2 weeks before another race I had planned, so I decided to pass.

Ann has chosen Chicago as her last marathon, and hell if I’m going to miss out this time!

I have the opportunity to earn a slot and contribute through fundraising for the American Cancer Society as part of Ann and Nancy’s DetermiNation team, down-not-out. I committed to raising $1500 by the end of September. I am happy to invest my time toward achieving this goal, because the number of people with metastatic cancer is growing, and we need better answers, better treatments, and better outcomes.

A recent analysis of people with metastatic cancer projects that 11% of the younger patients will survive beyond the 10 year mark—and that’s supposed to be good news. We need to do better.

I am wary of lotteries now (see NYC Marathon, above), but I would bet on Ann any day of the week to defy those odds and lead that group of survivors. Just this morning, she pulled out half mile splits at a sub-10 minute pace—despite the July humidity and the many side effects of what I call “invisible chemo” –because she’s still on chemo, but that’s not evident to most of the world.

She may be down, but she is not out! I want to run 26.2 miles with Ann and her team, and see her achieve her Chicago Marathon goal. To read more of my story, make a donation, or cheer us on, please visit my page. You can read more about Ann, her story, and my other teammates on our team page. I’ll see you in Chicago!

Warm wishes and many thanks,
Steph

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Sunset Beach Half Marathon in May with our Peep friends. You can see the humidity!

URE Marathon. Spoiler alert: I won!

I WON A RACE! First female! Woo hooooo! The end.

OK, two weeks later I am still SO! EXCITED! Because I’ve never won a race before! Not a big race, not a fast race, although it was a gnarly race. It’s on Ultrasignup, so it’s legit!

I went into the inaugural URE Marathon with curiosity rather than expectations. I signed up because I wasn’t running the Umstead Marathon and I wanted an excuse to check out the Uwharrie 100K/100Mile course, which is 3 or 5 loops that are described as “Simply Unrelenting.” Was the figure 8 loop harder than the Uwharrie Mountain Run (UMR) on the Uwharrie Trail? I had to find out.

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URE Marathon elevation profile. 4200 ft. of elevation gain. Like a T. rex with poor dental hygiene.

I haven’t followed a training plan since last spring and was surprised to run better than expected at Uwharrie 20. Then I pulled off my point-to-point marathon (aka the “No Steph, That Does Not Sound Like Fun” Marathon), running from Creedmor Rd. to the Falls Lake Dam on the MST one Saturday with my buddy John (I placed 2nd out of 2). I found myself at the starting line with a good base, though undertrained for hills (a discovery made at UMR).

Brandy and I talked Megan into signing up with us and we drove 2 hours to the start (which I now know is Mile 20 on the UMR). They had both done the Umstead Marathon the week before, so they were planning a fun and easy day in the woods, with their primary focus on a post-run brewery stop in Asheboro. Clearly I need to spend more time around these fun adventure peeps!

The race was set up as a free Fat Ass style, so everyone contributed snacks for the aid stations, which were divvied up and distributed by wonderful volunteers. After a quick race briefing, we started with a 5.7 mile out-and-back on a dirt road before jumping onto the 20.5 mi single-track loop. I ran easy, but noticed that there were only 2 women ahead of me when we started the single track. After a couple miles, I caught up with Jenna—I recognized her face and her name immediately, since we’ve done many of the same races, but had never put them together. She’s had a big early season with some ultra-distance races and had run Umstead last weekend. She’d run the course before, so she gave me some idea that the nice easy running we were doing at the moment was not going to last.

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Race Director Dan Paige gives us some last-minute instructions.

I’d never been on Dutchman’s Creek before, so I was curious about the terrain.
As many friends had promised, the first part was super-runnable, so I cruised along. There were many Scout groups out on the trail and I ran into the first one while slogging up the first big hill, with a slope far steeper than the opening mile of the Uwharrie Mountain Run. They generously allowed me to pass as they carried their heavy, external frame packs. One scout had a ginormous cookpot banging against the outside of his pack, which dwarfed his young frame.

I followed a young woman who was running strong and easy for several miles before closing the gap and introducing myself. Her name was Emily and we chatted for a few minutes. She comes from a triathlon background and had recently gotten into trail running—yeah! She trains with the RWB team near Clayton. We had a chance to talk more after the race and planned to meet up in Umstead for some training.

I was just wishing I’d paid better attention to where the aid stations were located when I came upon the one at the intersection of the two loops, mile almost-12. Clearly I did not stay there long enough, because for the rest of the race I had to listen to other runners rave about the bacon-wrapped pickles, which had vanished by the time I came back through.

I kept thinking that with each foot of elevation loss, I would pay on the return journey of potential energy gain. [Happily, I couldn’t remember the exact equation.] The URE Marathon promises a brutal 4200 ft of elevation gain. Soon I stopped at a clearing where the path was not altogether clear. Two hikers were there and called, “look up to the right.” I looked up—as in, I had to tilt my head back—and saw the yellow flagging above my head on what looked like a pile of rocks (the “confidence markers” yellow flagging were exactly as described and much appreciated—seems like I saw one every time I started thinking, “geez, I sure hope I’m still on the right track.” Thank you organizers!). A sign informed me that I had reached the famous Sasquatch Summit. It did not disappoint—a hands-on-knees slog, including a few places where I used my arms to pull myself up.

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This dead mouse on Sasquatch Summit may have been trying to tell me something.

Not long after that, I saw a sign for the Soul Crusher. It seemed pretty tame at first, until it WASN’T. It went on and on, up and up. The only reason my soul wasn’t completely crushed was knowing that I would not have to run it again.

Because here’s the thing—I was running one loop of this gnarly course today and thinking about what it would be like to run 3 (100K) or 5 (100 mi) of them in October. How in the world would you navigate the course in the dark, and how would you keep yourself moving forward on these brutal loops? There were quite a few Uwharrie 100K/100 mi veterans running, so I asked them. Allen said that the toughest mental decision is whether to stop at 100K, knowing you were finished and not have to run TWO MORE LOOPS (40+ miles) to finish the 100 miles.

I don’t know. During the race, there was not a moment when I thought, “gosh, I could totally see running this course all day and night!” But now that the race is over…maybe it’s doable. Maybe? The nighttime adventure would be something to remember!

At some point Kris from North Augusta caught up to me but declined to pass, though I offered several times. He hadn’t run Uwharrie before so we had a great time talking about trail running and racing as we trucked along.

Kris and I made the left turn onto the Uwharrie Trail. On the Uwharrie 20, that point would be around 12 miles—here, it was close to mile 17. Five miles makes a difference in Uwharrie, although this section isn’t bad. We ran out to mile 17.4 and Kelly’s Kitchen, where I knew my friend Juliet was volunteering. It was great to see her and Jeannie (both ultra-women extraordinaire!). We chatted for a few minutes about the prescribed burn that had been done recently (no, it wasn’t me) and the Uwharrie cookies I brought. Then she said, “you know you’re first female, right?” and I think I said, “Aaaah! No pressure!” I didn’t want Emily to catch me stuffing my face at an aid station, so I grabbed a pb&j and headed back down the trail.

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Perusing the PB&Js at Kelly’s Kitchen. [After seeing this photo, I cut the Wacky Professor Hair back into submission.]

The half mile out-and-back gave us a chance to high-five a few folks. Just 9 miles to go. Now it seemed like a disadvantage to know the course—miles 11-14 on the Uwharrie 20 weren’t bad, but 14-17 are brutal. I told Kris that we had a big climb coming up but the rest wasn’t too bad. He bought it.

Dennis Mountain at mile 22 (instead of 16) was not awesome. But the next section wasn’t as hard as it usually is on the UMR because we only had 1-way traffic. We reached a sign that said we had a mile to go. Before the race, I’d looked at my Uwharrie pacing and, although I didn’t know all of this course, I thought that if I had an amazing day, I might squeak in under 5 hours. My watch said 4:56. “hey Kris, if you can pull off a 4 minute mile, you can break 5 hours. You should totally go for it. I’ll be right behind you.”

“You didn’t tell me that the last part of the race is another climb,” said Kris, no longer buying my marketing. “I wanted to keep it a surprise. Where is that finish line???” There it was, and there were lots of smiles and “good jobs.” We finished in 5:09! First female! I was thrilled!

I spent the next little while hanging out in a chair, making frequent trips to the snack tables, enjoying the beautiful day, and cheering in fellow trail runners. Brandy, Megan and I then headed to the Asheboro brewery with Aline and a few others, where we ordered a large, plain pizza, got a pepperoni, shrugged and wolfed down the whole thing.

Dan Paige’s URE Marathon site promises, “…if you are looking for a race over some gnarly trails with some good people, this might just be what you are looking for.” Delivered. What a fantastic race, great volunteers, and top-notch organization and direction. If you think that the only thing better than Uwharrie is More Uwharrie, this race might be for you!

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Awesome Peep volunteers Juliet and Aline! Also 2 State students recognized me at the finish with the help of my shirt, though they claimed they were not in my class.

2016 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run

12376298_10207376662188186_1881369676864077756_nTruth: there’s no way to make running 100 miles a cohesive story (I knew that while I was running it). You have been warned.

PRE-RACE

For my thoughts leading up to the race, check out this post and my Umstead marathon race report. I have more to say about what I learned, but that will have to wait until a later post (or rot in my head).

A family crisis the day after the Umstead marathon kept my mind off the 100 for the entire taper period. Andrew and I were making frequent trips to Charleston to tag-team with family members while also juggling work and family at home. I lost a few pounds in the three weeks before the race, in addition to recurring sleeplessness due to stress. Note: not recommended. I knew I would have to consciously put the stress aside so I could focus on getting through one hundred miles.

I wasn’t super-successful with sleeping or eating all week, but slept like a woman without care on Thursday night. Refreshed, I headed to Camp Lapiho to get my packet and attend the race meeting Friday afternoon, finding my Peep friends Megan and Juliet to sit with during the briefing.

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“Pee before you wet your pants.”

Back in December, I saw race director Rhonda Hampton one Saturday in Umstead. I was surprised and honored when she asked if I was willing to wear bib #100 to represent the first-time hundred mile runners. One of my duties as #100 was to recite the 3 golden rules of ultrarunning at the pre-race meeting, as well as offer encouragement to those running. I spent many training miles thinking about what I might say.

I kept it short and simple, feeling self-conscious around the ultra-running giants in the room, many of whom had generously offered their wisdom during my training. It was up to each of us, I said, to run the 100 miles before us. But what makes Umstead special is the amazing community of support. So while each of us must cover every mile on our own feet, lean on that positive energy when the going gets tough. Everyone—the race organizers, volunteers, friends, families, and other runners—would be pulling for us to achieve our goals. I also asked each runner to offer encouragement to others on the course, because helping others reach goals they didn’t think were possible brings out the best in yourself. I tossed in a joke before I recited the three rules. “My running buddy said the first one is to pee before you wet your pants. But I didn’t see that anywhere on the website.”

Lap 1

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Megan and I, lap 1, AS2.

The start. Oh boy! We’re finally running this. I sent a final text to my crew advising them I was turning off my phone, so they could feel free to start the trash talk. Megan and I ran to AS 2 together. We were both relieved to be running, after months of training. Training was hard, tapering was hard, but THIS we could do. We talked about the confidence our 2:00 am, 39 mile crazy run had given us. I felt excitement as I wondered about the day and night ahead, having put aside my family stress for a little while. “All I have to do this weekend is run? Bring it!”

We were greeted at AS 2 by my co-crew chiefs, Steve and Danny, who were volunteering (possibly to low-key AS captain Chris Squire’s chagrin), Ken, Jeff, and Cheryl. Jeff and Cheryl joined me for some miles on the back half of Lap 1. I wore my Suzie shirt, knowing that Suzie would have appreciated the level of the challenge, even as she would assuredly have grilled me about balance.

Lap 1 split: 2:33 (each lap is 12.5 miles). 8:33 am. 12.5 miles finished!

Lap 2

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Wet rats on Lap 2, AS2.

It was humid already, and I refilled my Nathan pack with ~1.5 L of water. Since I’m lousy tracking time, I had landmarks along each 12.5 mi loop: Stretch at the bridge at the bottom of the Corkscrew. Stretch on the stone bridge at the bottom of Graylin. Drink a 10 oz water with half a Nuun tablet every lap, twice that if it’s hot. Eat at every aid station, especially the two main aid stations. These tips came from Danny and Jon, both U100 finishers, and they worked great. There was an unmanned aid station at miles 4 and 10, but it was mostly stocked with sweets that didn’t appeal.

Jeff continued with me awhile, and it poured rain. We saw some Peep friends out training for Boston—Sarah, Gray and Kerry, as well as Anne and Jeff.

I enjoyed the back half of lap 2 with some other U100 runners, and spent some time admiring the creamy yellow buckeye that was in full flower all over the park, but especially Turkey Creek.

Lap 2 split: 2:38. 11:13 am. 25 miles finished!

Lap 3

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Danny and Steve bossed, teased, and looked out for me for 100 crazy miles.

I was over my wet shorts, and reasoned that even if it rained again, I had extra pairs to change into. A Trailhead friend Galoot happened to be in the lodge and he and another volunteer refilled my water pack and helped me get another bottle of Nuun ready to go while I changed. I wanted dry shoes, but word at Lapiho was that we had one remaining cell with rain, so I compromised by drying off my feet, recoating them generously with Vaseline, putting on dry socks and stepping back into my wet shoes. Worth it! I’m off!

As I came down the Corkscrew, I saw my friend Diane, who accompanied me to AS 2. Throughout the race, my #100 bib is getting me many grins, thumbs-up, high-fives, and cheers. I’m excited by all the positive energy and this time, I’m part of it as a bona fide Umstead 100 runner.

I caught back up with Megan at AS2, and she and I headed back to Camp Lapiho with Karla and Danny. Brandy and some other friends met us on Graylin for a bit. Megan was having some trouble with blisters, but she was super-efficient at the aid stations and Camp Lapiho. She posted rock-solid, consistent sub-3 hour splits all day, eventually finishing in 23 hours and change for her first! 100! Woo hooo! What a run she had.

Lap 3 split: 2:49. 2:02 pm. 37.5 miles finished!

Lap 4

My big treat to start this lap is a dry sports bra, tank top, and dry, brand-new shoes and socks. It’s the little things!

I’ve run more miles with my friend Danny than anyone else, and he’s seen me at my best and worst on many runs and races. He tells me that it is past lunchtime and I should eat something substantial. Wait, what? Lunchtime already? I balk. He talks me into some grilled chicken. Eating is one of my few strengths, so I’m a little puzzled why nothing at the huge smorgasbord seems very appealing. Umstead aid stations are legendary and besides chicken, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers, plus any snack you could want. Karla and Danny head out with me after another refill of my pack. The rain has dropped the humidity and washed some of the pollen and dust out of the air, which is excellent, especially now that I’m wearing dry shoes. We see Vanita and she joins me for a few miles of her afternoon run.

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Simon joins me for a few miles as a surprise!

I get to Trinity Road and Andrew and Simon are there to surprise me! Andrew drops Simon off to run, then meets us at AS2. Simon runs by my side and checks to make sure I’m walking the hills—very serious about his pacing duties. Ann and Audrey are at AS 2 with big cheers. My other crew leader and great friend Steve jumps in for the back half of lap 3 with a long and entertaining story about nearly poisoning himself with an unknown fruit while on vacation (manchineel tree) and taking some silly photos. The sun is out and it’s hot.

Lap 4 split: 3:09. 5:13 pm. 50 miles done!

Lap 5

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Kellie and Gordy ready for Lap 5!

I was expecting to feel like I did when I finished Old Glory at 50 miles. That is, cooked. But my race has barely started and I’m excited to see my first official pacers and start gearing up for nighttime running. Luckily, I seem to be able to focus on the end goal, and I don’t think about my aches and pains because I’m not finished yet. My friends Kellie and Gordy are waiting, and Danny picks Steve up to grab dinner and go get his car. I try to get in too but they lock the doors. Guess I’ll run another 50 miles instead.

Gordy asked for Lap 5 because he is filling the role of paparazzi. He’s the official videographer for the 12 Things of Christmas, our Blue Ridge Relay team, and he wants to take some photos and videos while it’s still light. He does. Many. And then he gets everyone else’s photos and puts together this great video. I am especially happy about the video because there is actual proof that I was running. I remember walking a lot.

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Off to see the Wizard! Lap 5.

My friend Kim appears on Reedy Creek Road and joins us for a few miles! As we turn onto Turkey Creek and roll past the Butt Tree, I start asking myself what I want to eat. We come down the hill into AS2. “I can’t think of anything I want to eat…hey, PIZZA!” I head out with 3 small pieces. We pick up my son Stephen and I am so excited and proud that he’ll run a full lap with me. He’d come out with me for a run in the dark one Friday night and we had a great time. The flow of running and conversation works on teenagers and their parents, too, and I really love that. Steve and Danny are there again! but they won’t share their coffee.

Lap 5 split: 3:20. 8:34 pm. 62.5 miles done!

Lap 6

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Goofing off at Camp Lapiho with Stephen and Danny, between laps 5 and 6. No blisters, pinky promise.

I arrive back at Camp Lapiho and it’s now truly dark. My best friend Ann and my buddy Ken are here to pace lap 6! Whatever misgivings they may have had about keeping up were surely quelled; I’m not moving fast. I changed into my bigger shoes, re-lubing my feet. One of my toes is numb and I’m convinced there’s a blister on it. Danny tells me it’s fine and there’s no blister and I head back out with Ann, Ken, and Stephen. We’re barely out of camp when we run into Gordy who is wandering around in the dark looking for his car. He didn’t make the 9:00 gate!

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AWESOME cheering section at AS2 as I reach mile 70. The support was incredible and I later figured out it was nearly 11 pm.

As we’re descending toward AS2 I can hear people whooping it up. It’s pitch dark and I have absolutely NO idea what time it is, but am mildly surprised that AS2 volunteers have this much energy at whatever-time-it-is. I look up and realize it’s a huge crowd of my friends—out to cheer me on. I was actually speechless for a minute. Andrew is there, Jeff and the girls, Will and Margaret, Jean and Bill. I can’t believe it! And my friend Kelly is there to surprise me and jump in for pacing.

Stephen is arguing that he should be allowed to continue on with his pacing. He wants to run back to HQ and hang out with Steve and Danny. He’s been in rare form all evening, talking non-stop in the way that only a 15 year old boy can, but he’s also checking on me continually and making sure I’m walking the hills. He’s been great, but he’s running his first half marathon the following weekend and doesn’t need to be out running 18+ miles, no matter how slow. He’s also asking me about putting in for the Western States lobby, which is not a topic I want to discuss at the moment!

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Barely contained chaos between laps 6 and 7 with my lap 6, 7, and 8 crew.

We continue along in the dark. I love being out at Umstead at night—what a rare treat. I started feeling pretty tired, and got quiet, chugging along and listening to the conversation. I made a poor decision that since it wasn’t hot anymore, I didn’t really need to drink much Nuun, which was not appealing anymore. Kelly had brought me some Fritos, my favorite running treat (salt!!!) and I nibbled a small bag of those between AS2 and Camp Lapiho. Ann and Kelly slowed to encourage a solo runner on Graylin while Ken and I kept trucking. Ann helped me change and get ready for lap 7 and Jon and Carolyn were there and ready to roll for lap 7, along with Kelly. I added another layer and was ready to go.

Lap 6 split: 3:53. 12:28 am. 75 miles done!

Lap 7

Heard outside the porta-potty at Graylin/Reedy Creek at 1:30 am:

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Lap 7 pacers Jon and Carolyn are matching and ready!

“Marco.”

“Marco!”

“MARCO!!!”

“POLO! GEEZ! Go away Jon!”

“OK, she’s alive!”

I remember very little of lap 7. I was told that I demonstrated my owl calls—I know two, barred owl and great horned owl, and can render them with startling volume, especially in a dark forest. I probably needed some coffee. I remember feeling baffled when we got to AS2 and I looked at the huge buffet but couldn’t see anything that looked good. Jon filled a bag with random salty snacks and then coerced me into eating some. Carolyn and Jon told me later that I was still pretty chipper, but definitely loopy. Apparently I cheered on other runners, spectators, volunteers, a few trees and even some cars when we got back toward camp. At least I didn’t forget my own advice!

Lap 7 split: 4:31. 4:59 am. 82.5 miles done!

Lap 8

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Danny telling me I need to eat the rice between laps 6 and 7. Mercifully there are no photos between laps 7 and 8 when my face “looked like a blueberry.”

I am so happy to see my lap 8 crew of Jeff, Steve, and Danny, my runner brothers from other mothers. This is it! Although I never thought about dropping, I know now that I’m getting close to the finish. I’ve run 87.5 miles and have just 12.5 to go. And I know that these friends will get me to the finish. Camp Lapiho is bright after being in the dark woods and I’m squinting. Actually my eyes, and actually my whole face, are swollen, but I didn’t realize that. My legs still feel good, but my chest is tight and it feels like everything I try to swallow gets stuck in my throat. I’m also cold, and I’m wearing a long sleeved shirt, a wool pullover, and I’m trying to pull on a jacket, look for my gloves and hat, and think about what I can eat, not noticing worried looks from my crew.

I hold my hands up and say, “Whooaaa, look how swollen my hands are!” in a voice that probably suggested that I was drunk rather than awake for 24 hours and 87.5 miles into a run. Danny starts taking off my watch. “Hey…whatcha doing?” “Your watch is going to bust off if we don’t loosen it.” “I still think I have a blister.” “You don’t have a blister. Your feet are fine. Leave your pack here and let’s get moving.”

While I’m watching Danny fiddling with my watch, I look up and see Rhonda and two medical staff. Uh-oh. They’re all looking at me—I better get out of here fast. One medical guy says to Steve and Jeff, “She’ll be fine, but she needs salt and no more water.” Is he kidding me? It will take me hours to run the last 12.5 and I don’t get any water? Apparently I have hyponatremia. I started feeling a little sorry for myself.

There was some commotion as Rhonda tried to figure out who was actually in charge in my crew and doled out salt tablets with strict instructions that I should have one every 45 minutes. In the end, Jeff got the salt, Steve set the timer, and Danny had Gatorade to wash it down. It takes a flock!

I’d given up on eating. I was feeling lousy but I knew I could make it. After we reached Reedy Creek, I tried to run but felt like I was gasping for breath just walking. I could hear snippets from my crew talking about me in the third person—THIS IS NEVER GOOD—and I could tell I wasn’t walking straight despite trying to seem normal—later, I found out they were debating whether to take me back to HQ if my breathing did not improve. I was also really, really tired.

“Maybe I needed some caffeine.” I swallowed half a coffee-flavored gel and immediately threw up on the side of the trail. Everything that came out besides a tablespoon of Gu was water. No food. I threw up again and was suddenly irritated with myself for getting here. I knew I’d somehow screwed up my food intake and all I had in my stomach was water. Totally preventable and here I was, retching, at mile 89. I was pissed. I handed half a Gu to Steve and tried to make a joke. “Well, I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

I straightened back up and suddenly, I felt monumentally better. I could breathe and the chest tightness was gone. But I was still frustrated. “OK. It’s time to run.” The four of us set off down Reedy Creek. Dawn broke slowly as it does in the woods, sunlight filtering through the still-bare trees, black sky lightening to blue in the east.

A jangling alarm goes off. “Time for salt!” “I think I’m good. I feel much better.” “Nope. Rhonda’s orders.” This builds into a comical routine every 45 minutes, with my feeble attempts to refuse it and the guys telling me I have to take it, somewhat gleefully. Later Stephen said “when I heard an alarm, I didn’t know what it was for, but everybody got really excited and started laughing. Except you, Mom, you looked so miserable that I kind of felt sorry for you.”

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Last lap of Turkey Creek. I’m finally waking up and feeling like my goofy self again.

I was asleep on my feet and kept wandering off to the right until my crew took turns filling the space on my right and steering me back to the road. I’m not sure how much I ran. I expected to feel excitement on this final lap and was disappointed that I wasn’t in any shape to join the banter. I do remember giving Chris a hug at AS2 and thanking him and Hope for being there for all the runners. He smiled, shook his head and said, “Steph, you have quite a crew.” I think my friend Audrey was there too (again! What a pal) to send me to the finish with some good energy.

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Last 2 miles and I’m so excited to see my family and finish this!

I honestly don’t remember seeing any other runners on that lap, though I was told there were many others out there. If you know my three crew members, you know that they kept me entertained, even if you were as tired as I was. There was Little Red Riding Hood, Bob Dylan and flubbed Robert Frost. After AS 2, I was feeling much better. The salt, plus some sips of Gatorade and a little bit of coffee, was helping. I knew where I was headed.

About 2 miles from the finish, I see Andrew and Stephen. I was so excited to have them run me in! Simon is waiting at the finish with Ann and Ken, which means they’ve stayed all night to see me finish. I am finally turning onto Camp Lapiho Road for the last time. I teared up just a little but I was so thrilled to cross that line and get a hug and my finisher’s pendant from Rhonda. Hugs all around! I could not have reached the finish without my awesome crew. I went inside the lodge and had a made-to-order cheese omelet from my friend Keri, which was the best food I’ve ever eaten. I hugged and said goodbye to my tired crew, and tottered to the car with Andrew and the boys, where I instantly fell asleep.

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Finished!

Lap 8 split: 4:15. 100 miles, DONE! Finish time 9:15 am, 27 hours and 14 minutes.

Postscript

I learned so much but that will have to wait for another post. Here’s what I posted on Facebook the day after the race:

To all, I can’t thank you enough for all the support I had last weekend for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. The race organizers, particularly Rhonda Hampton, put their hearts and souls into the event. Volunteer captains like Ben Dillon, Rebecca Sitton, Jennifer Ennis, John William, Jeannie Armagost, Joe Lugiano and Dana Mathew spend days on their feet before, during, and after the race, taking care of runners’ every need. Other friends (too many to list!) pulled a volunteer shift or three working aid stations, taking photographs, setting up, cleaning up, cooking, timing, etc.

So many friends came out to run a few miles with me during the day or to cheer me at night. Many more of you, near and far, sent words of encouragement via Facebook, email, and text message. And my fun and crazy crew of Andrew Jeffries, Kellie Davis, Gordy Blackwell, Stephen Jeffries, Ann Camden, Ken Taylor, Kelly Cook, Carolyn and Jon Armstrong, Jeff Cobb, Danny Jessup, and Steve Fallaize pulled me through the night and to the finish. Andrew Jeffries brought the boys out to pace me, took care of me before and after the race, got my car home, and did a million other small things to help me achieve my goal.

I was proud to wear the symbolic #100 race bib as a first-time 100 mile finisher. Big congrats to many friends who ran, esp. fellow Peeps Megan Sullivan and Juliet Brundige. Thanks to ALL for making my experience so joyful and memorable. Life is rich!

Dust of Snow, by Robert Frost

The way a crow
[Shook] down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

2016 Umstead Trail Marathon: Running for fun

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Megan, Heiko and I hamming it up on Mile 1 of the 2016 Umstead Trail Marathon. Photo by Shannon Johnstone.

Set the right goals and you’ll win every time.

Umstead marathon is my favorite marathon. I say that having only run 7 marathons; 4 of them Umstead. Umstead was my 1st, 3rd, 4th, and this my 7th, marathon (2nd was NYC, 5th was Richmond, 6th was Blue Ridge). However many marathons I run in my lifetime, I hope that half of them will be at Umstead.

A few reasons why I love the Umstead Trail Marathon:

  • Umstead State Park is my favorite local place to run.
  • It’s hard. People don’t sign up for that reason. My point is, marathons are hard. There are no easy marathons!
  • Top-notch organization by Carolina Godiva and awesome volunteers.
  • Each year a different mascot is chosen and it’s a secret until the day before the race.
  • $70 entry fee includes a great t-shirt, finisher’s pint glass, SmartWool socks, Honey Stinger samples, chocolate, Moe’s burrito, and a door prize. Seriously!
  • Great hometown flavor and small, friendly feel with just 200 runners.

Lots of folks who are doing the Umstead 100 run Umstead marathon as a final run before starting their taper, so that was an easy decision. In the past, I’ve had trouble racing two long races a season (Uwharrie+Umstead, Uwharrie+Blue Ridge, etc.), ending up with nagging injuries during or following the second race. So my focus for Umstead was on a last long training run. No racing!

That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a few race goals. When you’re not trying for a PR, these are fun to play with, and you can learn a lot. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Run a personal slowest time. My previous Umstead times were 4:21, 4:14, and 4:16.
  2. Run a negative split. I tried this last time but Cedar Ridge had other ideas.
  3. Feel good after the race, as measured by my ability to eat the free Moe’s burrito post-race. I have never been able to do this.
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Definitely the best I’ve ever felt at mile 21-something, at the top of the Corkscrew and about to head down the dreaded Cedar Ridge Trail. Photo by Arvind Balaraman.

Having fun is always one of my race goals, so I didn’t list it here. Because I run for fun!

I’ll cut to the chase with some numbers.

I made all three of my goals, finishing in 4:23 (I was planning 4:30) with a 10:03 pace–averaging a 10:08 pace for the first 14 miles, then 9:55 for the back half. I ran a 9:30 pace for the last 10K, something I did not think was possible since it includes the Corkscrew, Cedar Ridge, and Cemetery Hill (see elevation profile below). Unfortunately, I forgot to record my mile splits, which would have been fun to have. Instead I had to average out my splits for miles 4, 14, 21, and 25 to add the data to my Umstead marathon chart*.

 

Umstead marathon chart

2012, 2013, and 2016 Umstead Marathon splits. Wish I had all the splits for 2016. *Yes, I did this in Excel with splits from my Timex watch. I’m a dork.

The story that the numbers don’t tell is that I had a great time. The beautiful course and camaraderie among all the participants, organizers, and volunteers are what will keep me coming back!